Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Books Read in 2019

Read in 2019 (37 = 19+ 18; NF 7) 
FICTION IN ENGLISH TRANSLATION --  (6):  The Time and the Place and other stories by Naguib Mahfouz [Translated from the Arabic by Denys-Johnson-Davies], Bengal Nights by Mircea Eliade [translated from the French by Catherine Spencer], Granada by Rawada Ashour, The Third Reich by Roberto Bolaño, Decay of An Angel by Yukio Mishima, (Taras Bulba by Nikolai Gogol),

NOVEL / FICTION IN ENGLISH (4): The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan, Mr. Sampath: The Printer of Malgudi by R. K. Narayan, Wanting by Richard Flanagan, (Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy)

POETRY IN ENGLISH TRANSLATION (3):  (Residence on Earth by Pablo Neruda [Translated from the Spanish by Donald D. Walsh]), The Rubaiyat by Omay Khayyam [Translated from the Persian by Edward Fitzgerald], (Masnavi, Volume I by Rumi),

POETRY IN ENGLISH (13): The Double Truth by Chard deNiord, The Undressing by Li-Young Lee, Something Bright, Then Holes by Maggie Nelson, So Far So Good by Ursula K. Le Guin, Sea Prayer Khaled Hosseini, The Thought Fox by Ted Hughes, Zoo by Odgen Nash, In A Language You Know by Len Verwey, Patina by Kavita Jindal, Citizen by Claudia Rankine, Annapurna Poems by Yuyutsu Sharma, The Rime of Ancient Mariner and other Poems by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Wild Iris by Louis Gluck,

PHILOSOPHY / RELIGION / MYTHOLOGY / HISTORY (4):  (Vasistha's Yoga translated by Swami Venkatesananda), (India by Al-beruni), Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, (Every time I Find the Meaning of Life, They Change It by Daniel Klein), 

POPULAR SCIENCE / ECONOMICS (3): (Cohesion by Rowlinson), (The Idea of Justice by Amartya Sen),  (Nabokov's Blues: The Scientific Odyssey of a Literary Genius by Kurt Johnson & Steve Coates),
NON-FICTION - OTHER (2): (Principles by Ray Dalio), The Mays of Ventadorn by W. S. Merwin, 

MAHABHARATA (by Mahrishi Ved Vyas; translated from Samskrit into English by Kisari Mohun Ganguly) (0/18): 

LITERATURE: NON-INDIAN LANGUAGES (1=0+1; 0): (Residencia en la Tierra by Pablo Neruda), 

Hindi / Urdu / Punjabi (Fiction/Mythology: 0 + Poetry: 0 + Non-fiction: 0)

Sanskrit (Fiction: 0+ Poetry: 1): Shiva Tandava Strotram by Ravana/ Valmiki

(If I am through more  than 50% of the book, it goes into the list of the year past, otherwise it appears in the new list next year. See here for the books read in 2018, with a selection of my favorite reads from the year past.)

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Troubled Troublemaker at the Chicago CTA station

Bizarre CTA Experience: This morning I stepped onto the platform at Chicago red line stop, and began reading Nabokov's Blues, a book about the writer and Lepidopterist (butterfly scholar/ collector) Vladimir Nabokov. I was on page three of a book I received this morning, when I guess my peripheral vision mapped an old man approach from my left side. Many travelers pass you by, and you barely pay attention. I was really enjoying my reading material, and before I sensed how close he was, he knocked the book out of my hands. The book, with two blue butterflies on its cover, fell onto the steel-gray tracks. With the book gone, my hands still raised up as if in prayer, I saw before me an old, haggard, African-American man. He had a cigarette butt in his lips, and a very angry expression on a wrinkled, dissipated face, eyes bulging out of sockets as if if with intense hatred. I stepped away from him, as did others around us. Then the man went on to partially drop his pants, expose his posterior, while a hand got busy for few seconds in his pants in the front. A minute or so later, with posterior still exposed, he walked past me, and approached an African-American woman who was sitting on a bench. He picked a tissue paper and a fork lying next to her, and angrily threw it at the tracks. A person next to me kept saying: is there an emergency button around here? Quite soon, but not soon enough, the train arrived. I boarded the train, later called and talked to a CTA representative reporting the incident to make sure the troubled man, the troublemaker was removed from the train station. Also I expressed interest in getting my book back. The man appeared quite disturbed and unstable, and clearly needs some form of care and cure. I wish I knew how to help him, and though I was appalled by the whole thing as it unfolded, I am still wondering why did he do what he did? #CTA #Chicago

Saturday, March 17, 2018

It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis is a prescient, prophetic, visionary novel, that embarks on a cautionary tale of a fascist, misogynist, racist leadership that manages to get democratically elected in the United States. The novel was written in 1930s when fascism was on a rise in the Western Europe while communism was growing stronger by the day in the Eastern Europe, and back when, most of the European nations, the US and Japan harbored strong colonial aspirations. Central to the story is the character of Buzz Windrip, the man who becomes the nominee of a major party, then the president, and then a dictator, "in order to save the nation from the welfare cheats, from crimes and sex, from drinkers and bootleggers, from the rising power of women who had just got the right to vote and work in offices and factories, from the ascendant African-Americans, businessmen Jews and the immigrants, from a liberal press, and imports". Buzz Windrip is brought into power with the help of evangelists and with the help of miners, laborers, and the so-called hardworking middle class American who believe in his promise that everyone would make more money under his leadership. In the first quarter of the novel, as the drumbeats around the nomination and subsequently the election of Buzz Windrip get louder and louder, the confounded intellectuals around the country go on mumbling "It can't happen here!"

The novel is a razor sharp political satire from another era, and it imagines the rise of both a dictatorial president and his henchmen from a fully-functioning democractic set-up. The scenarios imagined with a cold accuracy of a truly imaginative and creative writer appear to the a script many leaders around the world have emulated over the past few decades. Sinclair Lewis was the first American novelist to win a Nobel Prize for literature in 1930, for his major, more famous novels like Main Street, Babbitt and Arrowsmith. Although America narrowly escaped the wave of nazism and fascism in 1930s, the script of the novel stays as fresh and as foreboding as ever. Buzz Windrip, who eventually wins the vote, within this novel is said to have ghost-authored a book, written in a folksy, funny, simplified language, with choicest examples and phrases meant to echo in the minds and hearts of common people. Many chapters open with a paragraph drawn from the imaginary book, (titled Zero Hour) and each paragraph seems to have inspired words and phrases we have heard in our times from the leaders who are said to be in touch with the public, the masses, the working classes.  

The novel has a very memorable cast of characters, and works well both as a political satire as well as a saga of families and friends trying to make sense of events and changes around them. The primary actor and thinker in the story is Doremus Jessup, who is an editor of a small New England newspaper. Doremus both bears a witness to the emergence of Buzz as the president and a dictator, and becomes a victim to the influence of Buzz, exercised through handpicked cast of men in administration, each one more cunning and capricious than his predecessor at the job and also the incredible "Minute Men". Minute Men refers to a parallel  armed force of followers created by Buzz, with help of Sarason, his confidant and the supposed brain behind many of the popular songs, sayings and policies of Buzz. Minute men run the labor camps (similar to concentration camps), seize what they will, and they control justice system, and the minute men, with their marches and uniforms inspire awe and obedience in the masses.  Without giving away the thrilling and chilling plot points, including the inspiring and equally well-written female cast, I would add that the friends and family of Doremus, and his foes, provide a perfect orchestra of voices and choices through which the grand drama of the demise of a democracy is played out. I think it is the honored duty of every individual and every intellectual to read books like this one. Highly recommended.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Books Read in 2018

Read in 2018 (53= 26 + 27; NF 4) 
FICTION IN ENGLISH TRANSLATION --  (10): The Double by Jose Saramago, Kaputt by Curzio Malaparte, I am a Cat by Natsume Soseki: Volume 1, Volume 2 & Volume 3, Runaway Horses and The Temple of Dawn by Yukio Mishima, (Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig),  Morning Sea by Margaret Mazzantini [Translated by Ann Gagliardi], Botchan by Natsume Soseki [Translated from the Japanese by J. Cohn],

NOVEL / FICTION IN ENGLISH (11):  The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe, (Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham), The Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe, It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht, The Book of Chocolate Saints by Jeet Thayil, Cannery Row by John Steinbeck, Coyote Doggirl and My Dirty Dumb Eyes by Lisa Hanawalt, There is No Such Place as Far Away by Richard Bach, 

ENGLISH POETRY (27=7+19+1) 
POETRY IN ENGLISH TRANSLATION (7):  War Primer by Bertolt Bretcht [translated from the German by John Willett], The Complete Poems by Catullus [translated from the Latin by Guy Lee], Songs of the Simple Truth: the Complete Poems by Julia de Burgos [translated from the Spanish by Jack Agueros], Birds for a Demolition by Manoel de Barros [translated from the Portuguese by Idra Novey], Homage to the Lame Wolf: Selected Poems by Vasko Popa [translated from Serbian by Charles Simic], By the Danube: Selected Poems by Atilla Jozsef [translated from the Hungarian by John Batki], The Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of Poetry, edited and compiled by Czelaw Milosz

POETRY IN ENGLISH (19): The Shadow of Sirius by W. S. Merwin, The Rain in Portugal by Billy Collins, Erratic Facts by Kay Ryan, Felicity by Mary Oliver, Exit, Civilian by Idra Novey, My Soviet Union by Michael Dumanis, The Day's Last Light Reddens the Leaves of the Copper Beech by Stephen Dobyns, Registers of Illumintaed Villages by Tarfia Faizullah, Perception by Christina Pugh, A Face that Does Not Wear Footprints of the World By Usha Akela, My Dark Horses by Jodie Hollander, House of McQueen by Valerie Wallace, If they Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar, The Singer of Alleppey by Pramila Venkateswaran, Atmospheric Embroidery by Meena Alexander, Ferrying Secrets by Ralph Nazareth, Sharp Blue Search of Flame by Zilka Joseph, Magdalene by Marie Howe,

The Complete Poems by Catullus [translated by Guy Lee] in Latin,

PHILOSOPHY / RELIGION / MYTHOLOGY / HISTORY (2):  Three Ways to be Alien by Sanjay Subrahmanyam, The Lessons of History  by Will and Ariel Durant

NON-FICTION - OTHER (2):  (Traction by Gino Wickman), The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

MAHABHARATA (by Mahrishi Ved Vyas; translated from Samskrit into English by Kisari Mohun Ganguly) (0/18):

Hindi / Urdu / Punjabi (Fiction/Mythology: 0 + Poetry: 0 + Non-fiction: 0): Pratinidhi Kahaniyan by Bhisham Sahni,

Sanskrit (Fiction: 0+ Poetry: 0): 

(If I am through more  than 50% of the book, it goes into the list of the year past, otherwise it appears in the new list next year. See here for the books read in 2017, with a selection of my favorite reads from the year past.)

Highlights from 2018

1. Kaputt by Curzio Malaparte: Both Kaputt & Skin by Malaparte are beautifully-crafted but horrifying and unforgettable portraits of human decadence, war-mongering, wars and cruelty, and essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand the impact and influence of war (WW2).

2. Botchan and I am a Cat by Natsume Soseki: Humor and satire, with heart-warming style.

3. Runaway Horses and The Temple of Dawn by Yukio Mishima: The second and the third book in Mishima's fertility series. Involves unforgettable passages about a visit each to Thailand and to India, especially to Benaras Ghats, ruminations on changes in Japanese society, Buddhism, love, honor and reincarnation.

4. It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis: You can say Sinclair Lewis invented Trump or at least presciently knew what could lead to the rise of Trump-like president.  

5. The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht: A beautiful tale that weaves magical realism into a story that is both timeless and poignant, and beautifully written.  

6. The Book of Chocolate Saints by Jeet Thayil: Like Savage Detectives, tracks down to source and beyond the movements and mysteries of Indian Writers (mainly Bombay poets) who chose to write in English. The prose is luminescent in places, I guess whenever the poet drops in to ignite a line or few.

7. My Soviet Union by Michael Dumanis: Great poems.  

8. The Day's Last Light Reddens the Leaves of the Copper Beech by Stephen Dobyns: I can hear Dobyns recite in my head, and so the poems have additional appeal for me. Poignant and prophetic.

9. The Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of Poetry, edited and compiled by Czelaw Milosz: A great collection of poems, has no Indian poets represented though.

10. Pratinidhi Kahaniyan by Bhisham Sahni: A book that managed to give me goosebumps again, and again, and again.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Splinter Factory by Jeffrey McDaniel

Jeffrey McDaniel is a heartbreak, wisecrack poet, and his poems contain a potpourri of metaphors that astound, amuse, hurt, and linger in your imagination. Though there is often a subtext of dysfunctional family, unrequited or unsavory love, crack or alcohol addiction, in nearly every line Jeffrey invents a language for human condition that is scintillating in its originality and imagery. Do not attempt to read these if you are a prude, do not attempt to recite these if your lips have never been silted by tears or blood. In poem after poem, Jeffrey stuns you with his metaphors, and his wordplay brings to page a gorgeous imagination that thrives in the surreal landscapes of "The Utopia of Scars" co-inhabited by desolation and hope. I find his poems intoxicating, and as I sip his punchy phrases, I feel I am at a cocktail tasting, as a special guest of a bartender renowned for discovering savory concoctions, made with unexpected ingredients.

In "Renovating the Wall", he writes: "I enjoyed my time in the uterus, reading / what the previous fetuses had written / on your walls. That's how I learned / to spell. That's how I came out speaking."

In a poem titled "Dear America", Jeffrey talks about addiction: ... In college I took so many drugs / the professors looked at the samples of my urine / just to know what books I'd been reading./"

Jeffrey has a remarkable ear and eye for curious word combinations that are charming, endearing and apt.  "The Scars of Utopia", he says: "... There should be Band Aids // for what you don't know: whiskey breath minds so sober people // can fit in at wild parties; a Smithsonian for misfits: / an insomniac's mucky pillow hanging over a naroleptic's // drool cup, ..."

The collection is as spectacular as his poet titled "The Jeffrey McDaniel Show". "The Archer of Gluttony" or "Old Flame Thrower" enthralls us with sounds and images so crisp and finely crafted that you delight even at phrases that are highlighting desperation or melancholy. The poems showcase the skill of one of the finest metaphor makers of our times, and yet the poems are very readable, very likeable.

The seemingly autobiographical or persona poems are full of razor-sharp observations and unforgettable sentences: "...your tongue,/ ripping through my prairie like a tornado of paper cuts". Or in a poem about Grandma, he says: "I press my ears to her lampshade-thin chest / and listen to that little soldier march towards whatever / plateau, or simply exhaust his arsenal of beats." I highly recommend this collection by Jeffrey McDaniel and also recommend all his other books. Like me, you will discover that within the poems abides a sensitive, compassionate, witty, sympathetic and remarkable, self-effacing voice that must be celebrated word by word, line by line.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Middle-class Traditions Featuring Lemon Tree Leaves

- for Stephen Dobyns and Dean Parkins

Adolescent cousins sneak out, smoke
cigars, hukkahs, cigarettes, beedis,
opium sometimes, chillum fumes.
Cousins chew lemon leaves before
returning home. Explain why my uncles,
aunts, (their parents), cousins, neighbors,
never smell a lemon? Why not count
how many leaves vanish each night?

Cousins inherit the trick,
but fathers ignore the nostalgic lemon.
Mothers go on washing kurtas / shirts,
give head massages, hugs and career
advice. Mothers descry each drab stain
but fail as spies in a smoker's domain.
Is it maternal instinct to nurture
ignorance of chewed leaves?

Middle-aged uncles sneak out to savor
scotch, dancing women, rum quaffs,
sacrilegious ham or beef kebabs.
Though their lemons control
their households, the habit
plucks a leaf or two.
Rich don't care, poor brawl,
middle-class avoids confrontation
by swallowing bitter leaves of lemon.

To ward off evil-eye, grandmas
string lemon-chilli necklaces
for cars and all entrances.
Aunts treasure lemon trees,
they occasionally worship.
Lemons – spice up their dishes,
scare away unwelcome spirits,
and add flavor to their kisses.

My dead grandpa's friends
resent guilt and thrills of their young.
I imagine them unzip trousers,
loosen pajama strings with flourish
and tremble with a sly joy as they spray
golden, odorous drops, offered as ablutions
to the life's deceits and to all lemon leaves
that their spiraling, musty jets can reach.


First published in Muse India, 2016

Monday, January 02, 2017

Advice from Saraswati and the Muses

Write what is wrung from your tongue
a blistering song, a howl from your lung,
strum every veena vein muscle string
of your throat and your thumb.

Write with a bite that goes below, to the bone,
to marrow and to moan, to the seed of a seed.
Write to merit a sigh, a smile or a sob
from a granite idol or a brass snob.

Embrace the past, encompass eternal, vast
feelings. Empower -- under the thumb, mum,
conquered -- with hymns. Leave no crumb
unversed. Croon with aplomb.

Invoke immortal ideas, idols, ideals, idioms.
The wise mine for poems in realms forgotten
or uncharted. Seek, master the unknown,
the before and the after of Allah, Yesu, Om.

To celebrate and sing of the light like a skylark,
begin in the dark. Curate a spark within, burn,
transcend the limits of the Brahma and a quark.
Publish. Deserve immortal art.


First published in Muse India, 2016.
Saraswati: The Hindu Goddess of Knowledge, Speech and Music.
(My new year resolution for 2017: publish, publish, publish -- mostly science, also poetry)